Regarding inspiration: A few words on being an artist

By Anna Stump

How do we transition from “art student” to “artist?”

An essential component in self-defining as an artist is inspiration.

As art students, we learn skills: to draw, to manipulate the elements of design, to make dynamic compositions, etc. We learn to use media like graphite, gouache, and clay, and to talk about art using accepted vocabulary (the dreaded, but necessary, art-speak). Just as a carpenter requires a full tool-belt to build a house, we need technical skills before we can create art.

Our teachers guide us in carefully programmed projects to build confidence using these skills. The moment comes, however, when we no longer have an assignment. Faced with a blank white paper, canvas, or workspace, what do we say?

Fine artists need no outside teacher, client, or peers to create. Of course, most seek out criticism from fellow artists, mentors, curators or collectors. We do need input. We keep gaining new skills. But the basic drive to create art is self-generated.

We are inspired. Or driven. Or obsessed. Possessed. Only the work matters—the possible results of money or fame have little bearing. Time spent is not wasted nor regretted.

But how is the artist inspired?

Here are a few of my personal inspirations as an artist:

  • I see other art. I go to museums as often as I can, and always pay attention to what moves me. I attend gallery openings, artist lectures, and talk to other artists. Seeing art produces more art in me.

  • I notice what irritates or excites me, such as politics, religion, or cultural issues. I think about how art can address problems.

  • I pay attention to what is around me, such as the human body, nature, color, texture, and light.

  • I keep a sketchbook filled with ideas and images, my own and others.

  • I take long walks, ride my bike, or sleep on a small kernel of an idea that intrigues me. I think about art when I'm driving. Sometimes an idea comes suddenly, but usually inspiration is generated in bits and pieces.

  • I pay attention to intuition.

Inspiration plays a key part in the creative act. For me, being an artist is feeding this special drive to construct something out of nothing, only to please myself.

Anna Stump, MFA from SDSU and B.A. in art from Occidental College. Skilled in drawing and painting, she also works in performance art, digital imaging, interactive video, and book arts. She has exhibited her work nationally and abroad and has been featured in numerous publications. She also makes public artworks: a children’s sculpture in Turkey and murals in San Diego.

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